The Colgate Scene
|by John D. Hubbard|
Sometimes during a soccer game it seems Mandy Palladino might just burst.
As it is, she explodes to the ball, blows up at opponents bent on limiting her space and bubbles over when Colgate scores. Her game is hallmarked by unshakable fundamentals, steely relentlessness and a palpable competitive drive. It's a lot to fit into a small package.
What Mandy lacks in size she makes up for in moxie, soccer savvy and strength. Though only five-foot-two, Palladino has a huge impact on the field. Her game is non-stop and so is the chatter and she never, ever backs down -- whether it's going for a loose ball, claiming position on a direct kick or flying to the goal during an offensive assault.
Arriving at Colgate, Palladino quickly learned the college game was faster and that she would have to compensate for the five or six inches she was giving up to stronger opponents. She incorporated weightlift-ing into her training regime to the point that issues of height seem superfluous. Her biggest muscle, however, is still her heart.
When it is mentioned she plays with emotion, Palladino smiles, then drops her head, "Oh man, I'm very feisty." Endearingly so, for those who bleed maroon.
Mandy is her father's daughter. Gil Palladino had played soccer and was coaching at Utica College when his little girl started coming to practices and working as a ball girl during games. Mandy began playing herself at age four and quickly became a student of the game as well as a fiery spark plug who seemed to run down every ball. By the time the women's USA team was generating headlines and making new fans, Palladino was well on her way.
As an eighth grader in nearby Clinton, she won a varsity letter to begin an outstanding career. Over the course of five seasons (she started 103 consecutive games) the team went 86-14-2 and Palladino was named all-league, all-section and all-state her senior year.
During summers Palladino played on a team of select players from all over central New York. The girls were coached by Mike Doherty, Colgate's men's coach.
"We became really close and stayed in touch. When I began thinking about colleges, Mike steered me in the right direction. He continues to be supportive and I have relied on him for all sorts of things," says Palladino.
Moving right in at Colgate, she started all 20 games as a first-year, her first collegiate goal was a game winner against St. Bonaventure and she made second team all-Patriot League. Best of all, Colgate won the championship.
The Raiders took the title again (the ninth straight) the next season and Palladino elevated her game to another level. She had five goals -- two were game winners -- and continued to dominate the middle of the field.
Last year Colgate's Patriot streak came to an end when Holy Cross knocked the Raiders out of the playoffs.
"Not winning was such a horrible feeling -- watching Holy Cross celebrating on our field -- I never want to experience that again." So, setting goals for senior year was easy -- "Show Holy Cross we are the best in the league, win the Patriot League title and be an impact team in the NCAAs."
What has been harder is the realization soccer is suddenly finite.
"Colgate has made me much more well-rounded, but I still think of myself as a soccer player and it will be difficult to redefine myself. For now, I want to be the first one on the field and the last one off. I want to relish it."
Certain to be included among the moments to remember will be this fall's Vermont and Long Island games. Palladino had two golden goals when those teams came to campus in September. On a Saturday night, UVM scored with 13 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime.
"We were angry," says Palladino, speaking for her teammates who had carried the play to the Catamounts all game. "We just wanted to get it over.
Standing just outside the 18 box, Palladino got a throw in and took a toucher on the defender. At first she thought the ball would hit the post but it merely nicked it and caromed in for the winner.
The next afternoon, Colgate again dominated play, but after 90 minutes the game was tied. Twelve minutes into the first 15-minute overtime period Palladino converted a "phenomenal cross" from Lauren Erickson '03.
"I was just in the right place."
Gil Palladino, who coached his daughter on club teams, helps make sure that happens. Now the coach of the Clinton boys' team, Mandy's father has missed only one of her games. He stands along the sideline, saying little but conveying a lot.
"We almost have a code. He says one or two words or I just look at him." It is the kind of communication that develops between player and coach who spend every weekend for years traveling to games then dissecting each moment on the way home.
"My father is my best friend."
Palladino is also extremely close to her mother Pat. "She provides comfort. We talk on the phone every day."
Mandy has an older sister, Jenny. "We are complete opposites. She is incredibly smart, musical and she's tall. I was dragged to all her concerts and she was dragged to all my soccer games."
There is about Mandy Palladino a sense of mischief and delight. Her laugh sets off laughter in others and masks -- but in no way lessens -- her will to win. She is a soccer player and so much more.
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